What if you had an unbearable toothache for years and couldn’t afford dental care? Imagine having blurry vision but not being able to buy prescription glasses. This is the reality for many Baton Rouge residents without health care.
In January 2018, councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis directed the first Love Heals Free Clinic in Baton Rouge. After witnessing a similar free clinic held by the nonprofit Community Development Inc. in Idaho, she was inspired to bring it to the Capital Region.
Last year, the first Love Heals Free Clinic served 1,404 locals, providing them with dental, medical and vision services at the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control building on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
“When we arrived on site the first day at 5 a.m. there were hundreds of people already in the line,” Collins-Lewis recalls. “Many had been there since 2 a.m. and earlier. Hundreds of volunteers were spread across the parking lots, inside and outside of the facility, directing the crowd and getting as many as possible out of the cold and into dental chairs, eye exams and medical services. Temperatures the night before had been in the teens and still hundreds were lined up to receive services.”
This year, the clinic aims to serve 400 to 500 locals a day, recruit more than 400 volunteers and provide the community with on-site resources for future health care or services.
“The clinic addresses so many needs,” Collins-Lewis says. “I think it also brings attention to those needs.”
The free clinic will be held at the Baton Rouge Airport Multiplex building on March 15 and 16. Doctors, dentists, optometrists and other medical professionals will volunteer free services to those in need. Patients can receive services such as X-rays, fillings, eye glasses, wellness exams, illness diagnosis, and blood pressure and diabetes screenings. Those without transportation can get on a Capital Area Transit System bus that will shuttle people to and from the clinic.
While anyone is eligible to receive treatment at the clinic, space is limited. Patients are treated on a first come, first served basis. Upon arrival, patients who can be treated will receive wristbands that indicate what type of service they’ll receive. They can receive up to two services on the same day and don’t have to provide proof of health insurance.
“The hardest part of the clinic is having to turn people away,” Collins-Lewis says.
As her second year of organizing the clinic approaches, Collins-Lewis says she hopes to see as many professionals volunteering as possible. Local businesses such as Parker’s Pharmacy and CATS will be volunteering services to help the clinic’s efforts. Locals can volunteer as greeters or in areas such as volunteer support, security, patient registration, food service, and barber or hair stylist.
“It impacts people’s mental state when they feel like they can’t smile or they’re hurting,” Collins-Lewis says. “Giving free resources and getting more information to the people beyond the clinic—that’s the goal. Not just that one day, one event or one service—we want you to live a healthy lifestyle.”
Want to help out?
The Love Heals Free Clinic is March 15-16 and organizers are in need of volunteers. Find out more at lovehealsfreeclinic.org.
This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.